Commander The Great War review
The latest title from The Lordz Game Studios takes us to the times of the First World War, where humanity experienced, for the first time, the horrors and the magnitude of a “global conflict”. Commander The Great War allows us to take charge of the factions involved and relive this conflict as an armchair general.
Take notice, we didn’t say that you can choose countries, but factions. In CTGW you will have the choice between Central powers and Entente powers (nowadays more commonly known as simply “allied forces”), and you will eventually have control over every single country that joins the faction you are controlling. If you play as Central powers, you will be controlling Austro-Hungarian forces at first (assuming you are starting at the beginning of the war, as you should!) in their onslaught on Serbia, and if you play as Entente, it will be other way around. Afterwards you, as a player, will gain control of each country that joins your cause.
At this point, I once again must do my best to restrain the history-freak inside me and avoid a long, overly detailed report on the causes that led to WW1; instead, let me just state the main premises of the conflict that got to be known as The Great War and only later as World War 1. In essence, a complex network of military and economical treaties made it seem – on the surface – that nobody with an ounce of common sense would start a war, but eventually, instead to function as the deterrent, the countless treaties merely ensured that many countries got involved in the war without truly wanting it. Oddly enough, everyone involved was pretty much certain that it would be “over by Christmas”. Not only that it wasn’t over within couple of months, it was also far more bloodier and of entirely different nature than any war that was fought to the date. The World War 1 was, to its greatest extent, a war of industry, static defenses, trenches, mustard gas, barbed wire and machine guns mowing down youth of the nations, a horrid conflict where each side was trying to bleed each other white and where casualties without sense or true purpose mounted into hundreds of thousands, even millions of soldiers.
Commander The Great War manages to capture that sensation and presents us with a game where defense almost always has the upper hand. The game offers you five campaigns; 1914 The Great War, 1915 Ypres Artois, 1916 The Battle of Verdun, 1917 The Nivelle Offensive and 1918 The Kaiserschlacht, respectively. The choice of time and side is yours, and unlike similar scenarios from World War 2 games, you won’t be presented with clear cases of winners and losers. It might very well be fair to say that the Great War didn’t end by a military collapse by any side as much as the Central powers wore themselves out; simply said, they threw all their money, resources, weapons and, most important of all, their manpower into the huge meat grinder that were the WW1 fronts and those with less of those resources had to yield first. But it was a close call, from the beginning to the end, with allied forces often stretched to the very brink of destruction.
Once in the game, having chosen your side and as you get more countries to control, the bloody grind begins. The game lets you control the production, research, diplomacy and management. Some of these aspects, like diplomacy, are little more than a billboard, in that it doesn’t really offer players any true diplomatic abilities other than to declare war on any country. But let us take it one step at the time.
Hex by hex
Being a hexagonal, turn-based strategy, Commander The Great War is bound to repulse all but the fans of the genre, even though it could serve as a good entry title for those who are interested into testing these waters due to its relative simplicity. So, as usual, it must be pointed out that all the ratings must refer to the aspect of this game belonging to a genre that is something of an acquired taste.
First of all, the gameplay basically breathes simplicity. In some aspects, that is a good thing, while in others it diminishes the joy of the overall experience and leaves us wanting more. Unlike many WW2 themed games, CTGW has a much simpler, narrower scope of units and tactics, but that part can’t be criticized, since it is merely reflecting the reality. Infantry is the backbone of your armies, with the artillery as a strong support and the decreasing importance of cavalry as the game progresses. Airborne forces (which include zeppelins) and armored vehicles, clumsy predecessors to tanks, are more of an afterthought for the greater part of the game. When you select your unit of choice and hover over the enemy unit, you will see the display with estimated strength of attacking and defending units, giving you an easy guess of the outcome. For the largest part of the game, a single attack will not destroy the defender, but merely hurt it, and it will be required to attack the same target from several sides at the same turn, inflicting damage, before it either retreats or is destroyed. Once engaged into combat, the industry and “meat-grinder” aspect of the actual conflict are revived in this game; if you want to succeed and win the war, you need to literally wear down your opponent, up to the point where they can’t resupply and replenish their forces anymore, which will lead to their front collapsing and your armies victorious. This means not only fighting the war successfully on the front, but on the home front as well (maintaining sufficient home morale, which declines if you start losing too many troops and/or territory), maintaining sufficient production and supply of manpower. While this is somewhat self-understood in all strategy games, it has additional value in this very setting.
Each country that you control is a specific story for itself. For instance, if you are playing as Central powers, you may control Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany, Turkey and Bulgaria, and each of these countries will have their own production capabilities, their own armies, own research projects and so forth. Unfortunately, one can’t share production or researched technologies with your allies, so that the best way of cooperating is to win on their respective fronts or possibly even mix units from different countries, ie sending German troops to weakened Austro-Hungarian lines, for instance.
Research is not a huge part of the game, but it surely has its merits, giving boosts in statistics to specific units. One needs to be careful in deciding what upgrades to pursue and at what cost, also having in mind that there are significant costs when upgrading your units with new equipment, be it a new kind of hand grenades or new tracks for your tanks. There are five categories: ground, artillery, naval, air units and vehicles, where some are being unlocked after a certain time period elapses, such as airborne units and tank research. For faster, more efficient research, you will need to build more labs and use focus points as means to prioritize between different research projects. But all of this costing quite some amount of money, or production points, to be precise, one needs to be careful with the assessment on where to go and what to research.
Diplomacy is quite a letdown, really, since it doesn’t give you any options to entice relatively neutral nations to join your cause. All you can do is declare wars on everyone (not entirely useful option, sadly) and see what you need to do to piss someone off (as in attacking country X will worsen your relationship with the country Y). Sadly, there are no possibilities to affect the countries that are sitting on the proverbial fence, neither by bribing them nor bullying them into joining your side in the war. All the diplomacy is actually good for is to check out when a certain country might join the war, on whatever side it decides to go for.
Production is the alpha and omega of your war effort. Have in mind that a constant influx of new units as well as reinforcements and upgrades to already existing ones is the key to victory. The clever strategies and surprise attacks will not win you the war as easily; a player must concentrate on certain parts of the front, as well as definite technologies to upgrade to improve your combat effectiveness. Eventually, someone will fold their cards, being unable to keep wining both the war of guns as well as the war of attrition.
The guns…They’ve stopped…
Overall, there are some things that Commander The Great War does right, but there are also aspects where it doesn’t really shine through. Whereas the combat and setting are interesting and the atmosphere (for a turn-based strategy, mind you) is just right, the overall gameplay simply lacks depth of similar strategies. It is understandable that the developer team went exactly for that – a simple and fun turn-based strategy that won’t require you to actually study it to be able to play it – but the game could have easily be expanded to have a more effective systems of research and diplomacy. In the end, it was the setting that ensured the game its rating of 4 out of 5 stars; if you don’t prefer the setting, it would mean yet another half a point deduction. CTGW is a solid turn-based strategy with the possibility to become truly great, should the Lordz decide to expand on the neglected aspects of the game such as diplomacy. Overall, it is a recommendable title, well worth trying out.